Tag Archives: camera equipment

Recommendation: Kirk Photo

This is the second blog posting in a row about equipment – it’s not going to turn into a pattern!  It’s just a little entry in order to recommend Kirk Photo’s tripod brackets.  I want to comment on both the brackets, and the good service I received from Kirk.

Bruce Percy and others have repeatedly raved about the ease of using an L-bracket on a camera, and a little while ago I bit the bullet and went for it (I paid for all of this before my most recent expenditure, in case you’re wondering!).  Having been out with the camera and my new L-bracket setup, it really is fantastically good – I can’t quite believe how straightforward it is to use and how incredibly stable it is, even though the camera is fairly substantial.

However, getting the right parts was not completely straightforward: I wanted this for my Mamiya 645ProTL medium format camera, and although I initially bought – on Kirk’s emailed recommendation! – the wrong part (the BL-645AF may fit a Mamiya 645AF/D but it does NOT fit a 645ProTL!), they were very apologetic and then incredibly helpful in identifying the right parts.  This went so far as getting me to measure parts of my camera to make sure the part they were now recommending really did fit.  I returned the incorrect L-bracket, and they then promptly sent me the new parts, with no additional postage charge.  I was very impressed by how efficient and helpful they were, so if you’re thinking of L-brackets, do check out Kirk – they seem like good products, and the staff are great!

For information: if you also have a Mamiya 645ProTL then you’ll need a PZ-34 body plate (ignore that it says it’s for an RB67, it fits perfectly!) and a QRLB-S quick release bracket.  For my Manfrotto 410 tripod head, I bought an SQRC-3271 quick release clamp for the L bracket to slot into.  Kirk do, of course, supply the Allen keys needed for attaching everything.

So… go Kirk Photo!

P.S. Each of the component names above links to the relevant part of the Kirk website, but here is the homepage in case they change those links.  Bear in mind that if these items are being posted to the UK, you’ll also need to pay import taxes before the post office will deliver your parcel.

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New camera, new challenges

I’m just back from two weeks’ holiday in the Highlands and Islands.  Before going I was beginning to toy with the idea of a pinhole camera, but something else has come up…

New camera

Last year I went on a large format photography day workshop – a kind of taster to see if this kind of thing might be of interest to me.  It was… and soon after that I was nearly tempted into buying one of Mark Banks’ view cameras that he was selling, but I couldn’t quite afford it at the time (have a look at his website, by the way – wonderful images!).

Whilst on holiday near Inverness a couple of weeks ago I found myself in Ffordes – a fantastic camera shop selling all kinds of new and second-hand camera equipment.  I was there to buy a spare plate for my tripod head (which I did, second-hand, at £7, and my bank balance would have been very happy had I just walked out of the shop at that point).  But I also asked about prices for wide lenses for my Mamiya MF camera, and somehow the discussion then moved on to other things… and before long a Chamonix 4×5 view camera was mentioned…

Chamonix view camera

Chamonix view camera

Almost completely unused and on sale at a pretty good price, I went away to think about it, consult some Twitter users of 4×5 cameras, and the next day, I went back to buy it. Gulp!

Chamonix view camera

Chamonix view camera

So now I have a rather beautiful view camera!  It is one of the cameras that Dav Thomas and Tim Parkin recommended when I was on their large-format workshop last year, and I know that other photographers like Tim Smalley have used Chamonix cameras after being on Dav and Tim’s workshops.  I don’t yet have any lenses for it, nor do I have any of the other accessories I’ll need, but I’ll be working towards acquiring these just as soon as I have paid off the credit card bill for the camera! 😉

Chamonix view camera

Chamonix view camera

The Chamonix is very light, and folds down to become fairly small and rather elegant.  I don’t really get very excited about modern cameras: my digital Nikon is a great camera and does the job well, but it is pretty soulless.  However, there is something absolutely exquisite about this view camera, which is partly, I think, to do with there being no plastic – it’s made of metal, wood, and glass, with board for the bellows.

Chamonix view camera

Chamonix view camera

This makes handling it a very tactile experience, even before it’s seen any usage.  I also like the attention to detail in the construction of the body, which makes me want to touch it and use it right away.  I know that a modern digital camera is designed and made with amazing attention to detail: every component is precisely formed within fractions of a millimetre so as to squeeze in every last little bit of technological wizardry, but still… this is somehow different.  I never thought I’d be this sentimental and romantic about a camera, but it really is a beautiful piece of equipment! 🙂

Chamonix view camera

Chamonix view camera

Of course, it’s all very well being excited about the tactile nature of the camera – I need to use it properly and create images with it that work for me and communicate something of what I understand and see in the landscape.  Given that I don’t have any of the necessary accessories yet, that might take a little while, but it will come… I would hope that I’m able to start working with it in a couple of months’ time at the latest (afore-mentioned credit card bill being a key factor…!).

New challenges

Calanais, taken on my iPhone the previous evening

Calanais, taken on my iPhone the previous evening

A few days after buying the Chamonix I was on the Isle of Lewis – an amazing experience, of which more another time (my films are being processed at the moment and I won’t get them back until later this week).  The house we were staying in didn’t have much of a mobile signal, but I was out one afternoon photographing the second and third group of Calanais standing stones where the mobile reception was pretty good, and Twitter chatter from a few days before that confirmed the news that Fuji are withdrawing Velvia 50 and 100F in 4×5 format – just as I buy myself a 4×5 camera!  As it is for many other people, Velvia 50 is my favourite colour film for landscapes, so I found that news rather depressing, and I even found myself wondering if I had made a mistake buying the Chamonix if my favourite colour film was being withdrawn.

At the time of writing, I’m not sure whether this means Fuji UK are no longer importing 4×5 Velvia 50 to the UK and therefore it might still be available elsewhere, or if it is going to be discontinued globally.  I’m not bothered about the 100F being discontinued, which has always seemed to me to be a pointless film, but it seems odd that the 50 is being discontinued and the Velvia 100 is being kept (for now) – if Fuji thinks cutting down the Velvia range is necessary, then ditching both the 100 and 100F would seem more sensible to me.

Anyway: there’s not much I can do about decisions by a global company like Fuji (beyond signing this petition – I’d encourage you to do likewise!).  My first reaction on Lewis was to come home and try to buy lots of 4×5 Velvia 50 so that I have a stock of it to use with my new camera.  I did look into different suppliers in the UK, but they are mostly out of stock (other photographers – clearly not on holiday at the time of the announcement! – seem to have bought up everything they could).  I even checked some suppliers abroad: it appears to still be readily available in Germany, for example.

But now I am beginning to think that I should just leave it: I think that perhaps the challenge for me should be to look at doing something new with the 4×5 camera and to keep the Velvia 50 for my medium format Mamiya (it is still being produced in 120 size).  My thinking just now is that perhaps I should be photographing landscapes on the Chamonix using black and white film – I love Ilford’s FP4+ film, for example – at least to begin with.  There are two good reasons for this:

  • a practical one: FP4+ is wonderfully forgiving about exposure errors in a way that Velvia is most emphatically not, and perhaps this will stand me in good stead as I get to grips with a new process;
  • a process one: I want to engage more with my composition and I can imagine that photographing in black and white on a view camera could enable that, not least since the image on the ground glass is, of course, upside down!  This means shape and form and tone are more accentuated when composing, at least, that was my impression from the workshop I participated in last year.

So my sadness at the apparent loss of Velvia 50 in 4×5 format is turning into a further kind of challenge.  Again, I’ll have to see how I get on with this, and I’m sure there will be plenty of ‘misses’ – but I hope the ‘hits’ to ‘misses’ ratio improves over time!

Chamonix view camera

Chamonix view camera

More about this camera and my trials with the image-making process to come over the next months.  And yes: the pinhole will now have to wait a little longer…

A wee taster: large format photography

Large Format Landscape Photography WorkshopsA long time ago I booked for a May one-day workshop exploring large-format photography; I had to postpone this because of my broken arm, and went this weekend instead. I hope to show one of two of the images at a later date if they’re any good, but spending a take exploring what large format cameras are capable of, and the possibilities they offer, was great.

Theoretically knowing what such things can do is quite different to experiencing it, to trying it.  As someone suggested to me, it’s a bit like knowing  about cars in theory, but actually doing the driving is quite different.  This was just an introduction, but the two workshop leaders, Dav Thomas and Tim Parkin, worked well together to explain what we were aiming for and how to achieve particular things.  After showing us some of the mechanics of the cameras and why certain things worked they did, we had a go at focusing on trees in the middle-distance and heather and grasses in the foreground – if you’ve never used an LF camera before, this isn’t as straightforward as it sounds, though very satisfying when it finally works!

After lunch, we went up the hill and took some photographs.  For a newbie, it takes a long time to frame and focus each image, so, including a walk to the top of a hill (and a quick march back down at the end of the day in the pouring rain!), I took three photographs in just under 4 hours.  I think setting up, framing and focusing took between about 20 and 45 minutes – perhaps I’m just slow, but I think the other three people on the workshop were taking just as long.  Of course, it does get faster with practice – I started with a complicated composition in the woods that didn’t really work as well as it might have done had the sun shone consistently.  I then moved to another spot, and took time to get that set up correctly… a good 45 minutes, I think!  My third and final image was simpler in composition and took about 20 minutes, and I was able to release the shutter just as the first drops of rain came down.

So why go for large format?  Aside from the phenomenal detail and corresponding image size involved, for me the attraction would be in what it becomes possible to do when you can tilt and shift the lens and the back of the camera independently of one another.  Last night, after coming back from the Peak District, I found myself dreaming of retaking this image:

Goslpie harbour, final image

Goslpie harbour, final image

When I was in the harbour I wanted the lines of the jetty to be straight and for the coils of rope in the foreground to be visible, as they were when I looked at it without the camera, but it was an impossible effect to achieve with an SLR (these were taken on a DSLR).  Here is the ‘straight out of the camera’ image:

Golspie harbour, from camera

Golspie harbour, from camera

Straightening the lines of the jetty has introduced distortion – still acceptable, I think – into some of the other elements of the image, such as the white boat on the left and the blue boat in the foreground.  It’s also removed part of the coils.  I knew that I wanted what became the final image, and knew that if I took it as it was I could ‘fix’ the perspective in Photoshop.  But with a LF camera, such post-processing changes could have been largely unnecessary, or at least much reduced.  A tilt-shift lens could probably have helped me here as well, but in terms of cost, it seems to me to make more sense just to go with a LF set-up instead of a tilt-shift lens – and then one can benefit from the quality and flexibility of LF too.

So is a LF camera going to be added to my collection of tools in the future?  The one concern I have is that I struggled with the dark-cloth – I know that I am a little claustrophobic and it required considerable will-power to spend long periods setting up each shot under the dark cloth.  A black fleece jacket, which is much more open than the professional cloths Dav and Tim offered, might be a better solution for me.  I think my next step will be to borrow an LF camera sometime and play a little more with it, but I see no reason NOT to invest, once my finances allow!

In the meantime, if you’re wondering whether this might be something for you, or you just want to try something a bit different, do go on one of Dav and Tim’s courses – it was enjoyable, informative, and the two of them are a good team.

Help with identifying a photo scanner for larger format film, please!

Now that I’m beginning to move towards larger film formats I need to invest in a scanner that can cope with these films.  The Canon 4400F that I have is a pretty good all-round flatbed scanner (that I occasionally used for 35mm film), but now I need something that can deal with much larger film sizes.

My film requirements at this stage are smaller medium format (specifically 6×6 and 6×4.5cm – for a Rolleiflex and a Mamiya 645), but having seen what happens to people who start down the route of larger format cameras, I want to be prepared for perhaps larger formats in the future!  Over time, films may get bigger…

I would love to get a Nikon 9000, but can’t possibly afford that.

As far as I can tell there are two flatbed scanners on Amazon of the quality that I’m after, and that are just about in my price range (well, if I don’t tell other people in my household…): the Epson V700 and V750.  The 750 can use a glass holder for mounting film, which is obviously good for ensuring the film is completely flat and in focus from edge to edge.

Do you have any thoughts on this?  If you have used either of these, or have experience of another comparable scanner, I’d love to hear from you, either in the comments below, or on Twitter: http://twitter.com/MichaelMarten.

Thank you!

[NB This posting was imported from another blog I once used, and the comments do not therefore follow the exact pattern of normal posts.]

Medium format photography: sometimes, bigger really is better

And here is another exciting post: I have to say, I can barely cope with all this photographic excitement, I’ll need to go and sit down in a dark corner and cuddle up to my tripod or something if this keeps going!

A colleague at work invited me over last Friday to look at his Mamiya 645 ProTL: he had told me on a train journey to work a few days before that he had bought it a few years ago – and had never used it!  So he was thinking of selling it, but wanted to let me borrow it with a view to eventually perhaps buying it from him rather than putting it up for sale somewhere.  Very generously, he’s letting me play with it until September – so I can take it with me on holiday and try it in lots of different settings.  There are 80mm and 150mm lenses (approx. 50mm and 95mm in ‘normal’ 35mm film format), and the camera has a motor winder.  He has also given me a couple of rolls of Fujichrome (Provia 100F), and lots of rolls of monochrome film.  All the film is out of date, but has been kept in a fridge so should be absolutely fine.

And there’s more: as he was getting this out for me, he also came across his old Rolleiflex 2.8C (number 13 here; there appears to no direct link), along with a collection of filters for monochrome photography (orange, yellow-green etc.).  And he wanted to give this to me as he was no longer using it… So I went home that day with two medium format cameras and various accessories, one of them mine, the other possibly to become mine!

I had been wondering about moving into medium format photography for a while, primarily because of the tremendous image quality that it offers with the bigger film, but the cost of doing so was putting me off (my overdraft needs nurturing, not more abuse!).  So the gift and the loan offer from my colleague took me very much by surprise, and I really welcome it.  Yesterday I dropped off the first Fujichrome (Mamiya) and Ilford (Rolleiflex) films to be processed.  I suspect they’ll be rather bad, but I look forward to lots of practice, and I’ll begin to put images up here too!

Of course, I’ll now need to get a scanner that can cope with this size of film… anyone want to buy my present scanner?!

I don’t generally like…

… photography blogs that go on at great length about products and gear: often these simply seem to reproduce tedious press releases (someone once told me that ‘a product press release is hype in a pretty font’), and at other times it is just delight in acquiring lots of stuff that lacks any sense of how it might be used, with lots of photos of equipment, rather than photos made with equipment.

So I’m slightly wary about writing this entry, but what I have recently bought is going to make a big difference to me, especially in my beautiful but often rather rainy home country of Scotland.  Just before the new year (when the UK’s awful ConDem government raised VAT – a sales tax, if you’re reading this from outside the UK), I ordered a ThinkTank Hydrophobia 70-200 raincover:

ThinkTank Hydrophobia 70-200

ThinkTank Hydrophobia 70-200

I ordered it (and the special eyepiece) from Harrison Cameras, who delivered very promptly despite the holiday period – I can recommend them!  And I need not have worried about the tax rise quite so much – Harrison’s are keeping their prices at the old rate for the moment (so be quick if you want one too…!).

Although it looks pretty good, I wasn’t completely convinced by it when it arrived, not least because to start with it took quite some time to put it securely round the camera, carefully following the instruction manual (and my wife thinks men don’t read manuals… pah!).  But now that I’m used to it, it really is GREAT – once set up, it allows easy access to all the settings, the viewfinder, and the rear display, and even in heavy rain the camera stayed completely dry.  My D90 plus battery pack easily fits inside, and ThinkTank say it will be big enough for a professional camera such as the D700 or D3. So if you’re looking for a rain cover for an SLR camera, this is one I can definitely recommend! 🙂

There are two caveats I would make:

  1. it is designed to be able to cover a lens as long as the Nikon 70-200mm (drool…), so my 18-200mm will easily fit, as will the slightly longer cheap old 70-300mm.  However, today I had the 10-24mm out with me, and the fabric had to be very scrunched up to stop it covering the front of the lens. This means that this rain cover would not be suitable for something like my 35mm or 50mm primes, so if, like me, you love to use this kind of lens, you might need to think about alternative covers (of course, this also means I won’t be using it with my Nikon FM2, which is very small compared to the D90, even without the extra battery pack).  Having said that, if it is raining a lot, you might be reluctant to be changing lenses much and so a multi-purpose zoom could be just right, making this the perfect rain cover.
  2. because – obviously – the normal camera strap is inside the cover (there’s a very clever wee elasticated strap inside the cover to fold it into – ThinkTank have thought of almost everything!), there needs to be a strap for the rain cover itself.  Unfortunately, the one that is provided is disappointingly narrow, so that even through a heavy raincoat, fleece and thick woolly jumper, I could feel it digging into my shoulders.  I use an air-padded strap from Calumet for the D90 that is fantastically good, and so I will probably find myself buying another one to replace the cheap thin one on the ThinkTank cover.

One of the things that perhaps makes a difference with this product is that ThinkTank was created in part by good photographers who clearly have substantial input in the design of their products – and (apart from the strap) it really shows!

Not photographing everything

I’ve just read a wonderful blog post on B&H’s website on not photographing everything all the time. I think anyone who regularly has a camera with them and is known for doing that – whether they are a pro or an amateur – will be able to relate to this blog posting! I was delighted to find myself able to say “no” recently – just before my office Christmas lunch someone asked if I had my camera with me… and of course I did. But I found an ideal solution: I declined, but gave my camera to a colleague who is also a keen photographer, and very good at capturing portraits. So he used my camera and photographed everyone, whilst I was able to have my Christmas lunch in peace and concentrate on interacting with those around me: I wasn’t a photojournalist covering an event!

And one added benefit came from all this: I now even have photos of myself.  Not that I really like being photographed (I think many photographers feel the same way!), but sometimes it can be quite nice to have some images of myself too.